"Of course I have a life work," playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder said at the outset of his lecture on "The Spanish Theatre of the Seventeenth Century," "but if you want to hear me whistle, just watch me at my hobby!" The hobby was 17th century Spanish drama. Asking his audience in Avery Hall "What makes a great age in the theater," Patricia Maynard '52 reported in the Miscellany News, "Mr. Wilder cited the Greek and Elizabethan golden ages to show that such greatness demands not only inspired playwrights, but also imaginative and sensitive audiences, willing to participate in the fantasy of drama. The dramatist must not be forced to urge between clenched teeth, 'Pretend with me.'" Citing Lope de Vega as the outstanding representative of the age, Wilder characterized the period, reported Ms. Maynard, as one "when theater enjoyed a national interest and the Spanish people welcomed each new play with enthusiasm. Towns fought to obtain the best plays and companies for their annual festivals, and actors were so identified with their parts that they were greeted on the streets by character names. ('Very different thing from Broadway. Very.' Mr. Wilder added tersely.)"
Thornton Wilder spoke at Vassar about his second novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), in March 1929, and in November 1931 the Yale Dramatic Association and Vassar's Philaletheis joined forces to produce the novelist's first dramatic productions, four one-act plays—“The Long Christmas Dinner,” “The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden,” “Such Things Happen Only in Books” and “Love and How to Cure It”—presented at the Yale University theater in New Haven.
Zita Thornbury ’08, director of the Vocational Bureau, reported that 53 percent of the student body worked, took technical training or engaged in academic work over the previous summer. An additional 10 percent worked in volunteer positions. Four hundred ninety-four students earned $88,692, and 121 took training ranging from typing and shorthand to landscape painting and television production. One hundred seventeen did academic work, with French, government, history and psychology the most frequent subjects. Ten percent fewer students worked for pay than in 1948. The New York Times
In a speech to the Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy attracted instant press attention by displaying a paper on which he claimed were the names of 205 State Department employees whom he had identified to the Secretary of State as communists.
President Blanding released to students, faculty, trustees and alumnae her third annual report. With fear of Russia and communism rising, she urged the importance of defending academic freedom. “Unless we preserve our freedom to teach and our freedom to learn,” she said, “we cannot claim to carry forward the tradition upon which American education is founded. In some places these freedoms are in jeopardy…. In suppression lies our greatest peril.” Expressing complete confidence in the loyalty of the Vassar faculty, she denounced recent attempts to limit the range of books used in the social sciences, in “the fallacious belief that ignorance of an idea will forestall interest or sympathy.”
“Young people,” she said, “are always attracted to whatever at the moment is uppermost in people’s minds and this is particularly true when the ideas are concerned with principles of government. At Vassar we are confident that study of the philosophy and history of any ideologies, including communism, will be scholarly and objective…. We therefore encourage our students to learn as much as possible about Russia, by studying its language and history, by becoming familiar with its literature, government and economic system…. We are convinced that we are strengthening faith in democracy as we develop greater understanding of what it stands for and we do not fear comparison with other forms of government.” The New York Times
Four women associated with the United Nations joined Professor of Economics Mabel Newcomer and four student “rapporteurs” in a two-day forum on “The Non-Political Activities of the United Nations,” this year’s Helen Kenyon Lecture. The guest speakers were: Julia Henderson, chief of the policy division of the UN; Dr. Alva Myrdal, director of the UN Department of Social Services, Madame Sophie Grinberg-Vinaver, UN consultant on human rights and Louise L. Wright, member of the United States Commission for UNESCO. Professor Newcomer was a US representative at the UN Bretton Woods conference in 1944 that established the International Monetary Fund.
On the forum's second day, four student "rapporteurs," Marjory Hughes '51, Marie Zafiropulos '50, Joan Dumper '52 and Beverly Corbett '50, summarized the panel discussions' findings, speaking, respectively, on social welfare, the role of the United States in stablizlizing the world economy, the new Covenant on Human Rights and UNESCO. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt joined the forum in a question and answer session, and the forum concluded with a short film on human rights.
The Helen Kenyon Lectureship Fund was established June 7, 1939 by the Associate Alumnae, the Class of 1905 and other friends of Helen Kenyon, '05, as a contribution to the 75thanniversary fund. Miss Kenyon was an alumnae trustee from 1923 until 1928 and Chairman of the Board from 1929 until 1939.
President Blanding announced a gift of $200,000 from Dexter M. Ferry Jr. for the design and construction of a cooperative living unit on campus. Hungarian-born designer and architect Marcel Breuer, a representative of modern architecture’s International School, was chosen to design it.
Constructed of natural stone, painted brick and glass, the residence housed 25 students and a faculty advisor. Residents saved approximately $300 annually by assuming responsibility for budgeting, marketing, cooking and other household tasks, but the residence was open to all students, regardless of financial aid status.
Two of Mr. Ferry’s daughters, Edith Ferry Hooper ’32 and Jean Ferry Davis ’35, were Vassar graduates, and two of his sisters, Blanche Ferry Hooker ’94 and Queene Ferry Coonley ’96 had given $100,000 in 1919 for the erection of Alumnae House.
Student delegates from 17 Northeastern colleges and universities attended “Forecast for Germany,” a two-day conference at Vassar. Speakers included: exiled German political scientist, Hans Simons, from the New School for Social Research; émigré historian Professor Felix Hirsch from Bard; Brigadier General Telford Taylor, former chief counsel at the Nuremburg trials and Adolf A. Berle Jr., former Assistant Secretary of State.
In his remarks, Mr. Berle urged extending the Marshall Plan and development of an international process for the distribution of world surpluses. “The basic problem,” he said, “is the integration of German economy with the whole of Europe; in the long run we must work for free trade, a stronger UN, and a United States of Europe.” The New York Times
The Experimental Theatre presented the American première of Électre by Jean Giraudoux, in a translation by Winifred Smith ’04, emeritus professor of English.
On their second American tour, French composer and pianist Francis Poulenc, member of Le Groupe des Six, and baritone Pierre Bernac gave a recital of works by Dowland, Schumann, Ravel, Debussy, Faure, Duparc and Poulenc in Skinner Hall. After vocal performances ranging from Dowland to Duparc, reported Louise Erdman '51 in The Miscellany News, " M. Poulenc played four of his most familiar compositions: Mouvements perpetuels, Nocturne in C major, Intermezzo in A flat and Pastourelle.... Although they are popular, I don't think they can be fully enjoyed until one has heard M. Poulenc play them. Lastly M. Bernac sang the Chansons Villageoises, by M. Poulenc. These are brief, amusing songs, short scenes from French country life. They could have been written by no one not born a Frenchman nor sung by anyone not a Frenchman."
Bohemian-American pianist Rudolf Serkin gave the fifth Barbara Woods Morgan Memorial Concert.
An intercollegiate conference on "Psychology and Philosophy in Contemporary Society" was held at Vassar with more than 200 delegates attending.
Marcel Breuer, architect of Ferry Cooperative House, gave a gallery talk in Taylor Hall.
An intercollegiate conference on "Theatre Today" was held at Vassar. Delegates represented drama departments and theatrical groups of twenty eastern colleges.
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas read from his favorite contemporary poets, including Yeats, Hardy, Auden and Betjeman and from his own works.
The college announced the resumption of publication of The Vassar Journal of Undergraduate Studies. First issued in 1926 and intended to give wider circulation to papers of exceptional quality written by students as part of class requirements, the journal had suspended publication in 1944, owing to wartime paper shortages.
The college held its first outdoor commencement, in the Outdoor Theater. 2,000 parents, alumnae and friends looked on as President Blanding conferred the bachelor’s degree on 309 members of the class of 1950. Four women received the master of science degree and 11 veterans, studying at Vassar under the male veterans program, received the bachelor’s degree from the University of the State of New York.
The Indian ambassador to the United States, Madame Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, in her commencement address, departed from tradition. “Although it has become the fashion to warn youth about the dangers of our age,” she said, “I believe that dangers are the spice of life, and that the world would be a dull place if we had no difficulties to overcome.” She urged the graduates to accept the privilege and the responsibility of helping the world come to grips with its problems. The New York Times
"Truman Orders U.S. Air, Navy Units to Fight in Aid of Korea; UN Council Supports Him; our Fliers in Action; Fleet Guards Formosa." The New York Times
After a United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolution failed to end invasion of South Korea by North Korea, President Truman, with UN support, ordered American forces to come to South Korea’s aid. The first air confrontation, on June 27, resulted in the downing of three North Korean aircraft. American ground troops were deployed by June 29, and by August, some 90,000 United States soldiers were in Korea.
Writing in The New York Times, Laurie Johnston reported on a new focus in the Vassar Summer Institute for Family and Community Living. As many first-time mothers were stepping out of professional positions, they sought ways, said the institute’s director, Dr. Mary Fisher Langmuir ’20, “to help break down the isolation that develops when such a mother stops her other activities and becomes preoccupied with her child.” Mothers and their very young children enrolled a program designed, in Dr. Langmuir’s words, to shift the focus from “my child and I” to “my child and I, our community and our world.”
Although child-study students were provided so that the mothers could attend discussions, classes and lectures, the mothers were expected to take responsibility for laundry, feeding and baby care as a cooperative exercise. Through such arrangements, Dr. Langmuir noted, “there is no community where young women could not duplicate this experimental workshop…. Through their clubs, churches or housing developments, they could study child development jointly, call in a pediatrician for group discussion, take turns baby-sitting. They also could form closer contacts with older women in the community, who have a ‘time bank’ of leisure and experience that cannot be bought.” While, she added, “the needs of the baby must come first, they can be met without the mother giving up everything else.”
Many of the babies’ fathers were in residence and attended program activities as their schedules permitted.
President Blanding announced the appointment of the former minister of St. Andrews Methodist Church in New Haven, Reverend William H. Kirkland, as college chaplain and lecturer in religion.
Four displaced persons from Latvia, Estonia, Hungary and Yugoslavia, attended Vassar on scholarships provided by the trustees and with support from funds provided by donations from every student in the college. In an article in the Vassar Alumnae Magazine Professor of History Alma Luckau pointed out that the history of Vassar’s international students was a reflection of the history of European upheavals. In the 1920s, most of the students came from countries created in 1919, which needed educational leadership. “In the 1930s Vassar College gave asylum to innumerable refugees from countries overrun by the Nazis…. In the early 1940s we educated the daughters of anti-Nazi statesmen and resistance leaders…from countries conquered by the armies of Hitler. Since 1945 we have had students from as many as 20 different countries in one year, among them a few of the new type of refugees, from communist-dominated countries.” Vassar Alumnae Magazine
American and allied forces recaptured Seoul, the South Korean capital.
Vassar’s 87th year opened with an enrollment of 1,369 students, of whom 374 were freshmen. In her remarks at Convocation, Professor of Economics Emily C. Brown spoke of the supreme importance of “free inquiry and free speech, of academic freedom in the fullest sense.” Referring to the increasing power and scope of anti-communist inquiries and interventions, she said, “As a nation we need to be wary lest, in our fears over possible disloyal and dangerous acts, we destroy the freedom of opinion and discussion which is essential for the democratic process…. In standing firmly for academic freedom, the colleges and universities support the cause of freedom in the nation.
“…we believe at Vassar in free inquiry. No problem is too dangerous or controversial to be touched,” she continued, “or to be studied objectively. We have such faith in the strength and value of free institutions that we are not afraid of where free inquiry may lead us…. Academic freedom…is the foundation of the life of this college.”
Professor Brown received a standing ovation from the assembly.
In “It Happened at Vassar,” a review of former president Henry Noble MacCracken’s The Hickory Limb (1950), Mildred McAfee Horton ’20, the recently retired president of Wellesley College and wartime head of the Waves, praised McCracken’s transformation of “the docile ‘darling daughters’ of the traditional higher education for women into mature young citizens of a large world. Thus, he writes,
‘For fifty years students went to Vassar and hung their clothes on a hickory limb, but didn’t go near the water…. But by 1915 we were ready to go swimming, leaving our clothes on the old hickory limb, and finding in the adventure either confirmation by the test of experience of the validity of old authority or the way to a more self-reliant view of life.’”
“It is good to see in words,” Horton said in conclusion, “the testimony of faith in students which President MacCracken expressed in works for all the years of his presidency…. The story is one which needs telling if women’s colleges (and especially Vassar) are to be credited accurately with their share of influence on higher education in America.” The New York Times
Dr. Roman Jakobson, Professor of Slavic Language and Literature at Harvard University, lectured on "Sound and Meaning in Language," sponsored by the departments of Russian, economics, sociology and anthropology.
Chinese communist forces launched their first offensive in aid of North Korea.
Going house-to-house at the request of the Poughkeepsie Area Development Council and the Girl Scout Council, 450 students conducted a survey of local residents’ perceptions of neighborhood life. The survey asked about the extent of neighborhood development in the city and about what services the residents thought neighborhoods should supply. Overseen by Vassar’s fieldwork office, the study was prepared by members of the Vassar faculty, in consultation with members of the Development Council and the Girl Scout Council.
President Blanding was one of three recipients of gold medals for “distinguished service to humanity” from the National Institute of Social Sciences at its annual dinner. The other medals were presented to municipal reformer and banker Henry Bruere and Filipino General Carlos P. Romulo. Bruere was a principal credit advisor to President Roosevelt during the banking crisis in the early 1930s and, as chief executive officer of the Bowery Savings Bank, coordinated relief committees for the people of France and Britain during World War II. Romulo was a principal in the formation of the United Nations and, at the time of this award, was president of the fourth session of the General Assembly.
Working under the Mary Conover Mellon Foundation, established at the college for administering the $2 million gift to the college in 1949 from the Old Dominion Foundation, the Research Center for Human Relations at New York University presented to the faculty an extensive survey of Vassar as a residential college. Eschewing conclusions, the 250-page report presented data as a basis for study and interpretation by the faculty and the student body.
Students reported that they had improved most during their college years in “happiness,” “making friends” and “definiteness about life plans.” The great majority of students considered themselves “happy” at college, although ten percent said they were “not so happy.” Most of the respondents said that they felt “liked by the faculty,” and nearly all of them reported that a more personal relationship with faculty members would “enrich their intellectual development.”
Twenty-three percent of the students in the study were engaged by the end of their senior year. Ninety-five percent hoped to have a family by the age of 30, and about 15 percent said they hoped to be in a full-time career by that age. About half said that they planned on seeking employment at graduation, while one-third said they would probably seek further education.
Seventy-seven percent of the student respondents reported that they would choose Vassar again. The New York Times
In her annual report, distributed to faculty, trustees, students and alumnae, President Blanding addressed advocates of separate academic programs for men and women, declaring that to become successful adults and citizens all students needed to be able to make wise choices and a valuable contribution to society. She said that those who would revise or adapt the traditional liberal arts curriculum specifically for women, “appear to have just discovered that 81 percent of college women eventually marry and probably have children, as a result of which they devote their major energies…to homemaking. For this vocation, so the argument runs, the traditional liberal arts training has not prepared women, either practically or psychologically….”
Blanding declared the traditional curriculum “a sufficiently flexible and efficient instrument to meet the needs of students of either sex, although it will not, of course, meet their needs in exactly the same way. But is it a problem, for instance, that physics is more highly elected by men and child psychology by women?
“I should like to urge that we concentrate more steadily on the fact that what we are concerned with is not, in the end, either physics or child psychology, but the creation of understanding which will enable the student to develop her own philosophy and values. Many of the problems raised in connection with women’s education would then lose their pressing urgency.” The New York Times
“E. E. Cummings Reads Poetry: Capacity Audience is Enthralled.” The Vassar Chronicle